Pipestone

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Winning Nomination

Pipestone. It is a place, thing, piece of art, cultural and religion. It is a sacred area in Minnesota. It has consistency with people who gather there for pilgrimages. People have changed but the stone has remained the same. Means different things to people. People have changed but the rock has the same meaning.
~Spencer Johnson, Hastings, MN



Runner-up Nominations

Pipestone has been quarried at this important site for hundreds of years, and was widely traded with other native communities around the country. While pipestone may not have a large impact on our culture today, it was once an extremely valuable and rare commodity that connected Minnesota to the rest of the continent. To have such an important location in our state is truly a treasure.
~Nancy Lamberger, Bloomington, MN

My mother grew up in Pipestone, MN in a family of 13 children. They enjoyed summer outings at the quarry - a beautiful, peaceful, cool oasis to escape the season's heat.

Years passed, the family slowly grew up and moved away to states all over the USA. However a tradition began in the '60s to hold family reunions. As you may imagine these gatherings were quite large - Three generations of the Frank and Gertrude Bruns family have now appreciated and enjoyed this beautiful spot. We can't visit Pipestone without stopping by. Learning the Native American history associated with this area was wonderful to share as the families grew ... it just wouldn't be Minnesota without it.
~ Eileen J. Luedtke, Phoenix, AZ

Indian people have for centuries designated the quarry at Pipestone as a sacred place of no violence or aggression, a place of peace, a place where the stone for peace pipes is obtained.
~Diane J. Peterson, White Bear Lake, MN

Pipes made from catlinite quarried at Pipestone were traded far and wide for use in ceremonies. An argument could be made that pipestone was Minnesota's first major export. Pipes were present at major treaties and were a significant symbol of agreements including major land acquisitions from Indians. That in itself is transformational.

According to the National Park Service: American Indians often traveled as much as a thousand miles by foot and horseback to obtain the unique stone from which they made their pipes. A widespread legend among the American Indians that the stone was made from the flesh and blood of their ancestors accounts for the fact that it was the object of reverence. The site of the quarry from which the stone is obtained is considered sacred ground where all American Indians meet in peace.

Long before the first white man arrived in the area, the American Indians of many tribes had come to obtain the prized red stone. Their pipes were of many styles, shapes and designs. They were used by the American Indians on many ceremonial occasions. Whenever the American Indians met to discuss war or peace, to purchase a bride or to settle land disputes, the pipe was used to solemnize the occasion.
~Barbara Averill, River Falls, WI


Contents

History

A national treasure

Deep below the ground in southwestern Minnesota are thick layers of ancient rocks that were deposited there more than 1.6 million years ago. Today the rocks are known as Sioux Quartzite. Sandwiched between the quartzite layers, which are harder than steel, is a soft, easy-to-carve red mineral called pipestone (known geologically as catlinite). In 1836, George Catlin published a story he had heard from Dakota Indians about the origin of pipestone: "At an ancient time the Great Spirit, in the form of a large bird, stood upon the wall of rock and called all the tribes around him, and breaking out a piece of the red stone formed it into a pipe and smoked it, the smoke rolling over the whole multitude. He then told his red children that his red stone was their flesh, that they were made from it, that they must all smoke to him through it, that they must use it for nothing but pipes: and as it belonged alike to all tribes, the ground was sacred, and no weapons must be used or brought upon it."

Tools and other evidence left behind show that people have been quarrying pipestone in what is now southwestern Minnesota for at least 3,000 years. A sacred site, the pipestone quarries draw Indian tribes from across North America, who use the stone for making pipes and effigies. Since 1937, the National Park Service has operated Pipestone National Monument on the site and kept it open to visitors, but only American Indians who have received a permit can quarry the valuable natural resource.

Chuck Derby is a Dakota pipemaker who has for many years demonstrated his art for Pipestone National Monument visitors. He began working in the quarries with his father as a young child; later he learned how to carve pipestone, a skill passed down through generations of his family members. "We grew up as pipemakers here in this town," said Derby in a 1992 interview. "We know the stone. We know what tools to use and how to use them. In the old days, there were always people who had certain skills, who were specialists in one thing or another, and there were always pipemakers."

"In late August," he continued, "I asked a medicine man to do a Sweat Lodge Ceremony. We prayed that all would go well in the quarry; that no one would get hurt; that the elderly would be taken care of. The stone I got this year was so good--a beautiful piece. When I saw it, I knew the spirits were with me. The spirits answered my prayer."

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